From £20,3158
Ford Puma

For quite a long time, we’ve been waiting for somebody to come along and set a new standard – any kind of standard – in the compact crossover segment.

Finally, I think we’ve found the car that has done it, although the new Ford Puma has stepped rather than vaulted over what’s a relatively modest bar.

This isn’t a car that ever goes anywhere under electric power alone. Still, it all helps the numbers, and Ford thinks that by 2022 more than half of the cars it sells will be some kind of electrified

Puma, then. No longer a stylish small coupé based on the Fiesta, but today’s equivalent: a tall pseudo-SUV based on the Fiesta. We’ll mourn the former kind of Puma but, well, if we wanted to keep cars like that in production, we should have bought more of the darned things. The truth is that the crossover is the mainstream manufacturer’s way to make money out of passenger cars and not just vans.

So let’s size it up: the new Puma is 54mm taller than a Fiesta (1537mm), a full 146mm longer (4185mm) with a 95mm-longer wheelbase (2588mm) and, perhaps most significant, 71mm wider (1805mm). I say significant because the problem with many crossovers is that, in trying to give them some kind of dynamism, their suspension is tied down so the ride is hard. The Puma’s track width is 58mm wider than on the Fiesta on which it is based, and a bit of additional width should offset some of the extra height when it comes to the increased centre of gravity. We’ll see.

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Mechanically, things are pretty straightforward. Every Puma is a 1.0-litre petrol at the minute, with a 1.5 diesel following and a hot version (I know, but if anyone can, Ford probably can) later still. The three-cylinder 1.0 comes in four different flavours: 94bhp and 123bhp pure internal combustion, and 123bhp and 153bhp mild hybrid.

It’s a very mild hybrid, basically an integrated starter/generator aimed at torque-filling the turbo lag at low revs and helping to reduce the CO2 figures, rather than making the Puma faster – although it does, a tiny bit. Producing 15bhp and 37lb ft, though, and mostly at low revs, not by much. Ford calls the system ‘mHEV’, whose capitals put rather too much emphasis on the ‘hybrid electric vehicle’ part of things and not enough on the ‘mild’ element, for me. Reminds me of the gambling industry’s ‘when the fun stops, stop’ campaign with ‘FUN’ written largest. This isn’t a car that ever goes anywhere under electric power alone, after all. Still, it all helps the numbers, and Ford thinks that by 2022 more than half of the cars it sells will be some kind of electrified. No news yet on a battery-electric or a plug-in electric hybrid version of the Puma.

There is room, though, for a bigger battery than the diddy li-ion one beneath the boot floor, an area that Ford is reserving for a few things: on pure-combustion cars, the option of a spare wheel (praise be). And on starter/generator cars, what it calls a ‘Megabox’. Don’t get too excited. But it’s a novel way of using some space.

The Puma gets a higher boot floor than a Fiesta, and if a battery isn’t taking up the whole space, you might as well use it for something. Here, it’s a square 80-litre plastic recess with a plughole in the bottom, so – finally – there’s a car with a place to put dirty boots that you can easily rinse out afterwards. And, I guess, Ford could just offer different box sizes played off against different batteries back there.

Anyway, I’ve tried the Puma in 153bhp form, and in ST-Line X trim, which is fairly near the top of the tree. Prices start at just over £20,000 but this one’s £23,645, for a car that can reach 62mph in 9.0sec and return 51mpg, according to its combined WLTP fuel cycle.

Inside, things are pretty businesslike. The dashboard has a fully digital instrument pack and an 8.0in touchscreen protruding from its centre, with Apple CarPlay at no cost. There’s half-spongy material on the door tops and some hard materials, too, and fit and finish overall are good – some chrome touches that could convince you they’re actually chrome. But if somebody took all the badges off and told you it was a Hyundai’s cabin, you’d believe it.

The seats are relatively flat but ergonomics are good and the engine, at idle, is quiet. This car’s a six-speed manual – they all are at launch, so we’ll have to talk autos another time – and easy to get rolling thanks to moderate pedal weights.

One of the things about driving a Ford is that there’s a curious, and usually welcome, consistency to most of what they make. So in a Puma, impressions come at you fast when you’re not expecting them. The first surprise is that the steering is curiously light, for a Ford, and operating in what feels like a mild advisory capacity only. I wondered if it was because there’d be too much torque steer if it was allowed to be less over-assisted, but there are driving modes and in Sport mode, where the steering is heavier, it’s fine.

Which is odd. I think it’s the first car in which I’d wilfully take the heavier steering option. Ditto, the top travel of the brake pedal is over-light. And the throttle progression, as you come off the clutch, is sometimes sharp – as if the starter/generator assistance isn’t quite integrated seamlessly. Otherwise, the engine’s smooth, quiet and endearingly thrummy, though.

But there are other, more familiar, more reassuring things. The gearbox is snicky, and the ride compliant but composed. In cornering, the initial roll rate is a bit sharp – almost like a Mini Countryman’s, where they’re desperate for you to feel the agility – but once settled, the Puma’s natural cornering stance is composed and assured. Perhaps a Seat Arona changes direction more quickly, although it has a more skateboardy quality to its ride while it’s at it. A back-to-back test in the UK will sort that out for sure but the Puma has a blend of ride and handling and agility that, I think, is better than its rivals’.

It’s moderately enjoyable, in fact. But let’s not get carried away. A week before driving the Puma, I hired a boggo 2016 Fiesta 1.25, and despite not all of its wheels being entirely round, it was absolutely terrific fun in a way that this crossover – any crossover – is not. But that’s where we are.

While Ford was getting the Ecosport so wrong the first time around – and with its second try at it, still not quite satisfying those moving over from regular hatchbacks who wanted something not-weird – enough competitors had missed their chance to put a mark on the class, leaving the opportunity open for someone.

Belatedly, convincingly enough, Ford has taken it.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Ford Puma

Save money on your car insurance

Compare quotesCompare insurance quotes

First drives

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week